The Prince and the Pauper Can Money Buy Accuracy?
We match up two very different single-shot rifles from Dakota and H&R to find out just what $9,000 can buy.
The Dakota liked the Hornady Light Magnum
All testing was conducted from a bench rest using an Uncle Buds bench bag. This bag employs two suede sandbags that wrap around the forend of the rifle, which reduces recoil. The rear of the gun was supported by a Bench Wizard bag from Ultra Light Arms. It supports the butt of the rifle, but its design (two 5-pound sandbags connected by a webbing that fits around the rear of the gun) effectively adds the weight of the bags to the gun. This also helps control recoil. It might appear that the .25-06s recoil should not be a problem, but shooting many rounds in a short time can influence the shooterespecially when the Dakotas steel buttplate is banging into your shoulder. By reducing the felt recoil to virtually nothing, we ensure that the shooters ability doesnt deteriorate due to accumulating recoil.
The rounds we shot included new Federal Premium 115-grain Trophy Bonded loads that are just hitting the market, Federal Premium 90grain HP Varmint loads, Federal Classic 117-grain loads, which proved to be the best performer in both rifles, and the new Hornady 117-grain Light Magnum round, which shot poorly in both rifles. Velocities were measured 15 feet from the muzzle using an Oehler 35P chronograph. All groups were shot at 100 yards and measured center to center of the widest holes to the nearest 0.1 inch.
Before starting the test, each rifle was cleaned using Shooters Choice Firearms Bore Cleaner on a patch, followed with a clean patch. Then a bronze brush saturated with Shooters Choice Firearms Bore Cleaner was passed through the bore several times. This was followed by several clean patches and then with a couple of patches soaked with Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber. Then the gun was further cleaned with the Outers Foul Out Electronic bore cleaner and again given the patch-and-solvent treatment, this time using Shooters Choice Copper Remover. This was repeated until each bore was completely clean of any fouling, as indicated by clean patches with no black marks from powder fouling or green stains from copper fouling. The rifles were not cleaned again until the test was completed.
After firing a couple of fouling shots testing began. Each rifle was used to fire three three-shot groups with each of the ammo selections. The groups were fired in rapid succession with all nine shots for each selection fired before the rifle was allowed to cool. The rifles were rotated with each ammo selection so that they could cool before starting with the next type ammo. This not only allowed evaluation of the accuracy of the rifle with this load, but firing nine shots in a short time allowed us to see the rifles reaction to barrel heating.
Each rifle experienced an operating failure during the test. The H&R had one empty shell that it failed to extract and eject. The rifle extractor didnt engage the rim of the shell, and we had to pry the shell out with a knife blade. It came out of the chamber easily. The Dakota experienced a misfire using Hornady Light magnum ammo. Upon further review, we noted that the Dakota had a noticeably shallower and smaller firing-pin crater in the primers of fired cases than the H&R. The crater on the case that failed to fire was very shallow and small, perhaps indicating a weak firing-pin strike. Still, the single incident doesnt allow us to say definitively that this indicates a problem with the Dakota.
The Prince: Dakota Model 10
The Dakota Model 10 we tested was number 1 of 25, created as a limited-edition Sporting Classics Plains Rifle. Most likely, this expensive rifle wont be sitting in a pickup truck waiting for a quick hunt at quitting time.
The 22-inch barrel wears a hooded-banded front-sight ramp. It has express-style open sights, although we cant imagine why. The stock is obviously designed for use with a scope and is far too high to easily use these sights, in our view. On this .25-06 rifle, they serve little purpose, we think. The removable scope rings clamp to a quarter-rib and are locked in place with levers that turn screws to tighten the dovetail clamps.
When you pick up this rifleeven with your eyes closedyou can tell you have a work of art in your hands. It handles so gracefully and is so balanced that its 71/4-pound field weight (with a Leupold Vari-X III 2.5X to 8X scope attached) feels like much less. The slim grip and forend offer an almost petite feel to the gun, but one thats countered with obvious strength and quality. The 40-inch overall length adds to the balance and sweet feel of this rifle. The action lever opens and closes the falling-block action with the precision of an old watch and the solidity of a Packards door slamming. The delicate trigger breaks like an icicle, but with a surprisingly heavy 4.5-pound draw weight. Also, the trigger has overtravel that is evident as the sear releases. Slight as it may be, it is noticeable. The tang safety is very smooth and easy to move, but positive enough to instill trust. The wood is an understated walnut with a deep, but simple, beauty in its grain. The fine checkering is virtually flawless. Fit and finish are also excellent, with only the tiniest of gaps detectable at the rear of the trigger guard. The steel grip-cap with a gold inlay and steel buttplate are both fitted to the stock like they are in love.
While we dont pretend to be experts on engraving, we can recognize quality craftsmanship, and the Dakota sports expert metal strokes. Also, as with most good art, there is just enough engraving, but not too much. The observer finds engraving by E. L. Peters on the scope rings, the receiver, the lever, trigger guard, grip-cap, buttplate, quarter-rib, and swivel band. The left side of the receiver displays the head of a pronghorn antelope. The right side wears a whitetail deers head. Both are tastefully executed, we thought. Areas such as the barrel and its peripherals are blued. This bluing is a mild matte finish that is well suited for a field rifle.
In operation, the Dakota performed well, but not flawlessly. There is no ejector, and the extractor brings the fired case only a small distance out of the chamber. We found it awkward to pull the case out, and often as not we bumped it back into the chamber, requiring that the action be closed and re-opened to pull it out again.
At the range, we did note that the Dakota shifted point of impact as the barrel heated up. Each successive group would be lower than the one before it. This would be as much as 3 inches at 100 yards over nine shots. Logic would indicate that this should have an effect on accuracy, but in every single case the groups became tighter as the barrel heated up.
So what does it all cost? The basic Dakota single-shot Model 10 rifle with XX English Walnut wood sells for $2,995.00. Our test rifle also had a $350 French Gray finish. The steel buttplate costs $500, while the quarter-rib and banded-hooded front sight add another $750. The swivels add another $85, and the rings inch the price up $200. The engraving ups the ante by $3,500, and then there is the factory-supplied scope for $595. This brings the total to $8,977.50.
The Pauper: Harrington & Richardsons Ultra Rifle
Remember that in Twains classic, while not bred to royalty, the pauper had no trouble ascending to the throne. Perhaps he was not as refined as might have been expected, but his underlying qualities allowed a performance that nobody saw through. That is the case with the Harrington & Richardson Ultra Rifle.
H&Rs change a few years ago from a malleable frame to a more rugged steel on its single-shot guns allowed the company to start chambering for some high-intensity rifle calibers, including the .25-06. This break-action design features a spring-loaded extractor/ejector so that rimless cartridges can be used. The action is released by pushing a lever on the right side of the external hammer, allowing the barrel to pivot down. As the shell clears the breech it is ejected with enough force to throw it nearly 10 feet. The 26-inch barrel is on the heavy side of sporter contour, measuring 0.7 inch at the muzzle. This accounts for part of the unexpectedly heavy weight of this rifle. When we mounted our specimen with a heavy Burris 2.5- to 10-power 50mm scope, the H&R gun tipped the scales at 9.5 pounds. The .25-06 really needs a 26-inch barrel to strut its stuff, as evidenced by the 128 fps overall velocity edge this rifle had over the Dakota. With an overall length of 413/8 inches, it is still a manageable field rifle.
The bluing is basic, without a lot of polishing in the preparation. This actually results in a rougher finished product that is more desirable for hunting because it is less reflective. However, after only a moderate amount of field use the blue showed spots of wear on the barrel.
Another reason for the H&Rs heavy weight is the large stock of laminated wood. With the resin that is impregnated into it, laminated wood is heavier than walnut, but much stronger. We feel this stock is larger than it needs to be, and its overall dimensions should be shaved down to cut weight. The stock features a 1-inch ventilated recoil pad, and the gun comes with swivels installed. There is cut checkering on both the forend and the buttstock. Its weight and well-proportioned buttpad make the rifle a joy to shoot, with recoil all but unnoticeable.
The trigger on our gun broke very crisply at just under 3 pounds, with some overtravel. However, it has been tended to by a gunsmith, and few H&R guns can claim as nice a trigger as we had on our test gun.
Overall, this gun handles well in the field. It is well balanced and shoots well from a woods rest as well as offhand. We used it on a few hunts, including a deer/hog hunt in the Low Country of South Carolina, with great success. The gun performed extremely well in our tests. It obviously did not like the Hornady Light Magnum loads, but it shot well with everything else we tried.
It really liked the Federal Classic 117-grain load, with the group average well under the magic 1-inch mark. Past experience has shown that this rifle also likes the Federal 100-grain Ballistic Tip Premium load almost as well.
While the Dakota had the best overall average accuracy, the margin was only 0.2 of an inch. When you throw out the worst-performing ammo, eliminating the horrible match up with the H&R and the Hornady cartridges, the H&R beats the Dakota by 0.03 inch. Also, the H&R shot one lot in 0.83-inch groups, the only load under minute of angle for either rifle. The best the Dakota Model 10 could do in our tests was 1.27-inch groups.
When you factor in price, the H&R has an unqualified edge. The Ultra rifle carries a suggested retail of $250. Add another $9 for the scope base, $49 for the Burris Pos-Align Zee Rings and even $552 for the scope, and this gun is still well below the price of the buttplate and the quarter-rib of the Dakota! For that money, we think that the cost of a trigger job could be worked in somewhere to make the Ultra shoot even better.
Performance Shooter Recommends
Obviously, neither rifle is a dog. However, if accuracy is the only consideration, the Dakota isnt worth the additional $8,000 it costs above the H&Rs tag. For pure performance, we would buy the H&R Ultra rifle and use the extra money to pay for several hunting trips.
Even if we went for the baseline Dakota rifle, which starts at $1,795, the gap in performance would still be there. Said simply, the H&R Ultra rifle is a perfectly satisfactory field tool, and in this matchup, it is unquestionably the better buy.
Does this mean that we dont care to own the Dakota rifle? You must be joking. We covet the Model 10 rifle and fantasize about it gracing the wall of our gun room. For some people, the Dakota Model 10 will be worth the moneyespecially if they consider the guns aesthetics to be an integral part of its performance.